Chasing Stars

Black Baza Coffee
Nov 8, 2019 · 3 min read

In which we get our first 1 Star rating on Google but don’t dunk our heads in the toilet bowl…

Words by Arshiya Bose

This morning, we received our very first 1-Star rating on Google Reviews. It felt like a rite of passage in the wrong direction! When it happened, I was sitting at the big wooden table in the centre of our office. Jacintha, Kavya and Renuka were already off on their day’s work — Jacintha was writing down orders in our order book, Kavya was stamping coffee bags and sticking on labels and Renuka was grinding and packing coffee. Most things we do are painfully handmade. We don’t see it as cool or particularly luxurious. It is just the default. Default, because for most of the kind, hard-working dreamers that make up Black Baza Coffee, this is their first place of work. Their first tryst with a computer and printer and actually, even their first go at speaking largely in English.

I think about this 1 star and I decide not to tell the girls.

Instead I ask them if something has gone wrong with this particular customer’s order. I’m told there is nothing glaringly wrong. I write a polite response thanking this person for the negative feedback. I am honest. It hurts but it is helpful.

It is difficult to go back to work so I make myself a cup of the Wanderoo Medium Roast as a pour over and sit outside on the footpath in the morning sun. We keep a ‘mora’ in our office just for this purpose! I think about what it takes to build a coffee company and whether it is possible to be painfully true to both ideals — coffee as a product to consume and coffee as a product of people, place and ecology. My mind fixates on a single question.

Artwork by Gayatri Narayanan after she spent a summer working with us at BBCC!

To do 5 star well in one area, must I reconcile with fewer stars in another?

I imagine describing this scenario to the many producers with work with. I might probably say something like a customer gave us one star on the computer. I have done a substandard job of describing the internet on many occasions previously. Saying computer works out simplest. It is difficult to predict how Sannarangegowda might react. Probably say, “oh ho” and leave it at that. I doubt he would be stirred enough to write a blog post!

Second cup of coffee is brewing and I make a list of the different ways to get 5 stars. Replacing kind, struggling to stay afloat humans with super efficient software might be one way. Or super efficient humans at that. But how would we find the funds for super-efficiency? I think about not paying our producers as much as we do. For a small, handmade by default business like ours, 40% of our total cost to customers is purchase of material viz. coffee. So says our balance sheet. I know this percentage well because I recently had an argument with our Chartered Accountant who kept questioning me about why our purchases were as high as they were. I remember reading a report a year ago that said that other global specialty coffee roasters (not Nescafe and Starbucks but the schmancy stuff) pay producers 1.78% of their total retail value. So if we won’t cost cut on the single largest component of our business, then where?

I peddle my mind back to the earlier question —

Can you do quality product and quality process? Like be stubbornly non-compromising at both.

Can you create the best tasting coffee that has also been grown in a way the respects the grower and the land to the utmost degree? I have to believe you can. Otherwise, BBCC will always fall short in my eyes. But maybe we have to recalibrate the timelines in which this happens. Maybe we need to be a lot more patient with the 1 stars in the short term so we can figure out 5 stars in the long term. It makes sense why we call ourselves a 1000 year brew. Totally. Makes. Sense.

Coffee Grounds is a collection of stories about people, place and ecology in coffee landscapes. In the long-form, we explore the everyday lives of coffee producers, and how these everyday lives in turn connect to surrounding ecosystems.

Black Baza Coffee

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